Jul 01 2014

The Sleepover Dilemma

Published by at 4:11 PM under Child Safety

(This one’s a little long, but totally worth it!)

Sleepovers?!? Personally, I’m not a huge fan of them, mainly because in my experience, no one ever gets much sleep! The day after a sleepover is very often a cranky disaster, but that’s another story.

At some point every parent asks the same question… should we or shouldn’t we?

Option A – You could make your rule: NO SLEEPOVERS EVER. Plenty of parents take this approach, plain and simple. And that’s ok. Every parent is allowed their own comfort level on this one and there shouldn’t be any judgments made if a parent decides they just aren’t doing them.
Option B – If Option A isn’t for you, that’s ok too. Many parents have fond memories of sleepovers when they were kids and would like their children to be able to enjoy the same thing…which is fine PROVIDED: you use common sense, ask the right questions beforehand, and make sure your child knows what to do if the sleepover starts to go in the wrong direction and they don’t feel comfortable.

Sleepovers can be fun, but they can also be a slippery slope for the simple reason that there is often less supervision over a longer period of time. And, late at night when it’s quiet, a child may not know how to seek out help if something goes wrong.

If you’re going to allow your child to sleep at a friend’s house, do your “due-diligence” first. Is there anyone in that household (adults or other kids) with bully issues or other aggressive traits? If so, I’m not letting my kid sleep over there. Who else is sleeping over? Who’s supervising… Is it the parents or are the babysitter and her boyfriend watching the kids tonight?

What’s the household like? Some families have much different rules about what is allowed… games, tv shows, computer use? I’m not too keen on sleepovers where kids are allowed to gather around the laptop in their friend’s bedroom till all hours. I want to know that the adults in charge are monitoring and have specific rules and time limits for technology.  Kids should not be allowed technology in the bedroom at a sleepover and you have the right as the parent to ask about that!

And then of course, is the concern that most parents have… what about their child’s personal safety, particularly when it comes to “unsafe touches?” That’s a healthy and appropriate concern you should address before ever allowing a sleepover.

It’s important to have specific conversations ahead of time with our kids and make sure they’re able to stick up for themselves if necessary. It’s not enough to tell your child “no one is allowed to touch your private parts.” Kids need to know what to DO and SAY if this happens. They need an “exit strategy”. And they won’t necessarily be able to think of it themselves unless we’ve taught them what to do.

Give your child “scripted responses” they can use if necessary. Lines like: “I don’t let anyone touch my penis, not even my friends.” “It’s MY body and I said NO.” “Hands Off MY Body NOW!” (Practice these with your child. It may come in handy at other times, besides sleepovers!) Then, your child should know it’s time to get some support. Either find the grownup/parent in charge or call up their own mom or dad and say “This sleepover isn’t going so great, please pick me up.”   If the sleepover is at your house and your child is uncomfortable by another child’s actions, he can “redirect” the dynamic and say “I need a drink of water” or “I’m going to the bathroom”, and then come to get you right away.  Give your child a code they can use with you, something like:  “I miss our dog tonight, or I have a tummy-ache.”
Let your child know that sometimes sleepovers don’t always work out in a fun way, and if he gets a “confused, uh-oh feeling” even from a friend or a grownup there, he can call you anytime. You can also reassure him that he may still be allowed sleepovers in the future, but that sometimes we just have to call it off if someone else isn’t doing the right thing. This way, your child won’t feel badly for telling you and he’ll understand that he won’t be “penalized” in the future by never being able to go on a sleepover again. This will go a long way in his trusting the lines of communication with you.

Before allowing sleepovers, check out some of the questions below:

Do you know everyone who lives at the home or is staying there at the moment?
Is this a chaotic, stressful household with minimal supervision?
Do the parents have similar values as you?
Do they make you feel guilty or silly for simply asking questions or being concerned?
Anyone in the household have a substance abuse problem?
Has anyone there, including another child, ever given you an “UH-OH FEELING” FOR ANY REASON?
Will your child need to take a bath there? (Note: the smartest choice is for the child to bathe at home before going).
Does anyone in the household (including adults & children) seem overly sexualized or “off” in some way?
Who is supervising… parents or nanny/babysitter and her boyfriend?
Who else is sleeping there? Other kids, adults, older siblings’ friends?
Is your child mature enough to speak up for themselves when they feel uncomfortable or uneasy?
Does your child know they can call you at any time and you’ll pick them up?
Does your child have the maturity or ability to stick up for themselves if something makes them uncomfortable?
Have you had a clear conversation about “thumbs up and thumbs down touches” with your child?
Have you shown them WHERE the phone is in that home if they need to call you but are afraid to ask the parents there to use the phone?

It’s our job as the parent to evaluate each situation individually, and make sure it really is a safe place for our child… and that includes sleepovers, drop-off playdates, family reunions, after-school activities, and any other environment where our child is on their own. It’s not about helicopter parenting… it’s about making smart, safe, educated decisions when it comes to our kids!

Check out these children’s books for ways to talk to your kids about personal safety:
“No Trespassing – This IS MY Body!” and “Super Duper Safety School”…. Available at amazon.com or safelyeverafter.com

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